EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford, facing escalating criticism over her office's refusal to say how much severance was paid to Redford's former chief-of-staff, ordered an about-face Thursday.
In a news release, Redford said she has directed Don Scott, the associate minister of accountability, transparency and transformation, "to put a policy in place that expands the proactive disclosure of salary and severance information for senior government employees."
The policy would be retroactive to the time Redford's current government was sworn in after the last provincial election in April 2012.
Redford said she wants Scott's work to be completed by the end of the year.
The new disclosure policy's time frame would include the severance payout to Redford's former chief-of-staff, Stephen Carter.
Redford's announcement came a day after Global TV reported that bureaucrats in her office were defying a direction from Alberta's privacy commissioner to reveal how much Carter was paid when he left Redford's office in the spring of 2012.
Carter left at that time to provide strategy and advice to Redford's Progressive Conservative party in the election campaign.
He was also Redford's campaign manager when she engineered her miracle come-from-behind win at the PC leadership contest in 2011.
Global TV had made the application under freedom of information legislation.
Early Thursday afternoon, Redford told reporters in Medicine Hat that because the request was made under freedom of information rules, she has no control over the process.
She said those decisions must be made by civil servants alone without political interference.
"It's not for me to step in to release a document or to not release a document," she said.
However, hours later Redford issued the news release saying that while she will continue to respect the freedom of information process, Scott will move on a separate track to see if more public information on pay and severance can be released.
Redford spokeswoman Neala Barton said that while some would like to see the premier release the severance numbers immediately, given the change in policy, that is not practicable.
"We have to do this in a way that is going to balance an individual's privacy," said Barton.
"As you can imagine, if your employer decided to release your contract, you might want to have a little bit of a say about that."
Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Redford is flip-flopping on the issue and should simply release the figures.
Smith also noted that Scott's December deadline means the severance numbers won't be made public until after PC party members hold a confidence vote on Redford's leadership in late November.
“Premier Alison Redford's statement on salary disclosure is an example of why so many Albertans no longer trust her on issues of ethics and accountability," said Smith in a news release.
“After saying she had no control over the release of Mr. Carter’s severance information, tonight she has backtracked, saying that she will change the policy and release this information, but only well after her leadership vote has taken place.
"The premier knows that legally she will be forced to eventually release this information, and has therefore created a path to ensure its disclosure at a politically convenient time."
Smith and NDP Leader Brian Mason also say the secrecy around the Carter severance raises questions about whether he was being rewarded with a lavish public payout for services rendered privately to Redford and her PC party.
"She owes (Carter) big time," said Mason.
"One of the questions that needs to be asked is if (Carter) was inappropriately rewarded with public money."
Smith questioned why someone who stepped down voluntarily would get a severance to begin with, and said the timing of the payout was also suspect.
"Why would somebody who left a position voluntarily before the election be paid a severance after the election? It's a pretty uncomfortable question," said Smith.
"Is this (severance) a win-bonus for winning the (election) campaign?"
Carter, who is no longer employed by the province, did not return calls Thursday.
Global TV reported it had been trying for over a year to get the information through the premier's office or through freedom of information legislation.
In its ruling, the privacy office dismissed arguments from Redford's office that releasing the figure would harm Carter's business interests or be used by others to publicly discredit him.
"The disclosure of this record will not tarnish (Carter's) reputation or unfairly expose him to harm," read the ruling.
The commissioner also didn't accept the argument that releasing the information would make it difficult for the premier's office to attract quality applicants in the future.
The issue has precedent.
In 2007, the privacy office ruled the government had to release severance totals of some of former premier Ralph Klein's key staffers.
About $2 million in severance has been paid out to premier's office staffers over the last few years under Redford and former premier Ed Stelmach, but who received what has not been made public.
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